In the world of the hagwon, the customer is always right

Home > Culture > Features

print dictionary print

In the world of the hagwon, the customer is always right

One of the hardest things for me when I started teaching elementary school kids at a hagwon, or private language school, was making class fun enough to keep the students interested without losing control of the class. When I was able to strike that delicate balance between education and entertainment, everybody learned something and had a little fun. But when the scale tipped too far in either direction, things could turn ugly fast. Start having too much fun and the kids would bounce off the walls; give them too much dry information and they would start staring out the window and daydreaming.
Being an overgrown child myself, I tended to err on the side of too much fun. But there were a couple of problems with my approach. First, though young at heart, I didn’t have the physical energy to put on a three-ring circus all day long. By the time my fifth class of the day started I was worn out and irritable. Second, I became known as “The Funny Teacher,” which was kid code for a pushover.
One Friday evening, with just one class left in a long week as ringmaster/educator, I was looking forward to the weekend. I hummed a catchy little Roger Daltry tune as the students filed into the classroom. I went over the answers to the homework, we breezed through the next unit and started to play a game. As the game progressed one of the boys (I think his name was Kenny) started taunting any student who made a mistake. After warning him several times, I took him out of the game and made him the scorekeeper. But he continued saying abusive things to the other kids.
I had had enough and asked him to leave. The way I saw it, it wasn’t fair to the other students to let him stay and continue saying awful things to them. He had to go. I picked up his book bag, opened the door and said, “Goodbye Kenny. I’ll see you next week.”
“No,” he said. “Give me my bag.”
Visibly irritated, I said, “If you want your bag come and get it.” I placed the bag out in the hallway and when he went to get it I shut the door and locked it. He started kicking the door, screaming for me to open it. The rest of the class and I did our best to ignore him and went back to playing the game.
When I arrived for work on Monday, the director of the school called me into his office. He told me that Kenny’s mother was furious about what I had done. I explained what happened. “I see your mind,” he said. “But you must understand one thing: It’s true these children are our students, and we must educate them. But more importantly they are our customers, and we must satisfy them.” He asked me to send a letter of apology to Kenny’s mother. I refused, and I never saw Kenny again. Of course I never threw another customer out of class either.

The writer, an American, teaches high school in Seoul.

by Dylan Alford
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)

What’s Popular Now